Know Your Trees: Poplars

This week for Know Your Trees, GM is visiting a gentle giant that you don’t find along sidewalks, but which can be found in Montrose Park: poplars.

Specifically it’s not true poplars you find around here, but rather tulip poplars. The tulip name comes from the tree’s distinctive flower. They are yellow and orange and look like this:

But poplars are often so large that it’s hard to see the flowers actually on the tree in the spring when they bloom. But you find them all over the ground around the feet of the trees.

The trees can be truly massive. They typically have arrow-straight main trunks that then are topped by thick zig-zagging branches.

Just think of that towering tree back by the sledding hill on the back of Montrose Park. That’s a tulip poplar:

The leaves are broad with curving lobes that look like this:

They can grow to truly staggering heights. A mature poplar can be as tall as 190 feet, especially if it’s in a group of poplars trying to compete for sunlight. That’s taller than any building in the city, save for the ten tallest.

A tulip poplar in the woods north of Montrose Park (the one in the first photo above) was once determined to be the second largest tree in the District, behind a white oak on Northampton St. in Chevy Chase. This wasn’t a measure of just height, but of overall mass.

So when you walk through Rock Creek, first look to the ground and keep an eye out for the distinctive yellow and orange flower on the ground and then look up. Way, way up.

 

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